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Feminist Blogs Respond to Club Culture and Rape Article

Tuesday's <a href="http://alternet.org/story/46138/">article</a> on young women, club culture and rape has the feminist blog world hopping mad.
 
 
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"Underage Women Sidle Up to Barroom Risks," originally published in Women's eNews and reposted on AlterNet as " How Bars Exploit Underage Women as Commodities" is being criticized by the feminist blogosphere for citing dubious "experts," shaming women for commonplace socializing, and for implying that young "scantily clad" women get what they ask for.

Below is an edited selection of responses from the feminist blogs. (Full disclosure: Liz Funk, the article author, wrote a less-than-favorable Huffington Post piece about me and my blog late last year.)

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon responds:

Please, god, let people stop getting enamored of the idea that the most important battle of all time for gender equality has got to be getting rid of the small perks of being female in the club scene. Yes, yes, it's true that ladies' night is discrimination against men, but for some reason anyone who complains about it doesn't want to hear my solution, which is that women pay 76% of the price men pay on every item until pay equity is reached. This fair solution that addresses all horrible injustices, from ladies night to actual injustices, just doesn't seem to be a marketable idea for some reason.

I bring this up because Liz Funk has stepped in it again with her latest article bemoaning the fact that because men basically run the nightclubs and women are desired to be seen in them, women get a secondary power of being able to manipulate male power for small favors. You know, like those horribly unjust 25 cent well drinks. To make this entire situation worse, Funk quotes Gary Miller in the story, who is mainly an expert in being a douchebag, as we learned when he got into a big war with Jill at Feministe and the fine folks at Gawker, who didn't appreciate his bizarre fantasy-masquerading-as-editorial of legions of club sluts crying into their hangover coffee because they keep getting the fuck-and-run. From this bizarre fantasy, so you know I'm not joking:

You just dance. Then you meet a guy, he buys you drinks, you go home with him, then you wait by your phone the whole next week; but he doesn't call until he's really drunk at 3 a.m. the following Saturday. So you analyze every detail of your encounter with your friends. You start to think maybe he's just busy. But really, you're just the slut from last week.

Women think every guy they have a one night stand with wants to marry them. Gary knows, because he saw it on the teevee. And the teevee will never lie to you about how people really act in order to reinforce stereotypes, now would it?

Gary's a pig with an overinflated sense of how much women need his approval, so why on earth is Liz Funk quoting him in her article about nightclubs?

"Bar and club owners definitely exploit women," said Miller, who wrote an article in November headlined "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs" in the Washington Square News, New York University's student newspaper. "Women become a commodity of the establishment that owners use to draw male patrons in. I think the reason most men go to bars and clubs is to find women. This is why they'll pay a cover charge while women get in free; they're paying for the women inside. Bar and club owners know this. They know the success and appeal of their establishment depends on the quantity and attractiveness of the girls inside."

There are two major problems here, apparently:

  1. That men have more power and money than women and therefore women end up getting treated like a sexual commodity.
  2. Some women realize they can use their commodification in minor, limited ways to get favors.

Which is the concern of "feminist" Liz and her buddy Gary? Well, we'll get around to discussing how problematic male dominance is after we've convinced every woman ever to avoid ever turning tables and gaining some small pleasures here and there. Men feel they can use you for sex? You should cry and give up on sex rather than use them right back and show them payback's a bitch.

But in case this isn't appalling enough, Funk then breaks into hand-wringing about how women just keep going out there and apparently raping themselves. She invokes poor Jennifer Moore, an 18-year-old rape and murder victim, and then goes on about how the booze somehow rapes you.

Over 70,000 alcohol-related date rapes a year are committed among students aged 18 to 24, according to "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility," a 2004 report from the National Academies. The report also finds that 29 percent of those between 15 and 17, and 37 percent of those between 18 and 24, said that alcohol or drugs influenced their decision to do something sexual.

Two months after Jennifer Moore's murder, the speaker of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, promised the participation of the City Council, nightclub owners and police officers, among others, to make "sure that New York City has the most exciting -- and safest -- nightlife in the world." They hope to have legislative plans in place by next year.

Some grassroots initiatives try to help women out on the town get home safely.

In New York, for instance, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called Right Rides provides free car service for women on Saturday nights who don't feel safe taking the subway and don't have alternative means of transportation.

But even with laws and initiatives and special public precautions in place, Quinn acknowledged that young people "who go out at night remain at risk until they get back home."

On this thread the other day, it was repeatedly mentioned how anti-rape discussions tend to fall into victim-blaming, and the people who have the real power to stop rape--men who rape--are rarely mentioned as a target group for actually curtailing rape. Problem is that telling women to give up freedoms in order to stop rape is just more oppression of women. Liz clutches her pearls earlier in the article in shock that underage women have more access to alcohol than underage men where clubs are a little more lenient, but then she plays coy when she says that drinking is a factor in rape by just using the words "people" and "alcohol-related". This weaseling is important to make this article come together, because the truth is that alcohol is a factor not just if the victim had some, but if the rapist did.

So the issue is that if drinking makes it more likely that someone will commit rape, why are we angry that it's women who can get into the bars and not men? Seems to me that bars teeming with drunk 18-year-old women but no drunk 18-year-old men are probably a hell of a lot safer for those young women than situations like parties where the drunk young men are everywhere. Not that a man of 21 can't rape, but from what I understand, the likelihood of a man becoming a rapist basically goes down rapidly with age, which is what you'd figure.

Worse, bringing rape up in an article that's otherwise just moralizing slut-shaming at young women implies that rape is akin to a "consequence", i.e. punishment, for being sexual. By going on about how horrible it is that young women are going out to bars and drinking and being seen as sexually appealing by men, and then saying, essentially, "No wonder they get raped," I don't see how Liz Funk is any different than Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, who blamed rape on women who dare leave the house alone without being covered up. Funk thinks the sluts at the club are asking for it, but Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali thinks Liz Funk is asking for it if she goes to the grocery store alone without a chaperone or a hijab, and doubly so if she's put on a little lipstick. She may think she's so much less a temptation for rapists than the girls at the club, but according to the "uncovered meat" theory, not so.

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said:

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?"

"The uncovered meat is the problem."

The sheik then said:

"If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

I doubt very seriously that Liz Funk or Gary Miller or the editors at Women's eNews think that it's appropriate to tell women that rape is their fault if they don't wear a hijab, so why do they think it's appropriate to lay the same guilt on women for wearing a miniskirt to the club?

Update: I'm so irate that I'm emailing the editor of Women's eNews to complain. You can do the same here.

Dear Rita Henley Jensen,

As a long time reader of Women's eNews, I was deeply disappointed to read "Underage Women Sidle Up to Barroom Risks" by Liz Funk, an article that seemed to serve no other purpose than to fuss over young women having the audacity to go out and have fun dancing and drinking in the clubs as if they were, shocker, young women. The article went from merely irritating and disappointing to outrageous, though, when Funk finished the article by implying that the cause of date rape is women behaving like this. Since when is it feminist to blame rape victims for being too seductive or free in their movements? Rape is caused by rapists, end of story. If you're interested in chastising someone for partying behavior that leads to rape, save your vitriol for young men who drink and use that as an excuse to commit rape. Feminism is about more, not less freedom for women. Shame on you for engaging in the ancient tradition of blaming the victim for rape.

Dr. Violet Socks writes: Number One Cause of Rape: Rapists

I know that's a bold claim, but I'm going to go even further: rapists are not just the leading, but in fact the only cause of rape. I've been turning this over in my mind for a couple of hours now, trying to poke holes in the logic, and I think I've got a solid case.

Of course the patriarchy doesn't see it that way; under patriarchy, women are the ones who somehow cause themselves to get raped. They're always either wearing short skirts or walking down the street or sitting at home or holding their mouths funny or breathing or doing some goddamn thing that makes men rape them.

We're used to hearing that kind of crap from asswipes like the Cat Meat Sheik, but when ostensible feminists slide into victim-blaming it's maddening. According to Liz Funk, the latest cause of rape is young women going out drinking. Ms. Funk completely omits any mention of who commits these rapes; apparently they just occur, like spontaneous combustion, when young women are out at night. A bunch of girls out on the town, having a few drinks, and poof! They're raped!

Sheelzebub writes: Because nothing says feminist like "those drunk sluts are asking for it"

You know, I realize that club owners engage in the same marketing crap that other industries engage in. I realize that clubs regard women as so much bait for men. I get it. And if Liz Funk had focused on that, I'd be linking to the article exhorting everyone to read this, with a hearty Yeah! What she said! Too bad I can't. What I don't get is why, when Liz Funk could have just concentrated on that and demanded that clubs act responsibly (and perhaps critique the whole peer-to-peer guerilla marketing jauggernaut), she instead chose to shame women who go to nightclubs and quote Gary Miller, a college student who got into an internet war with Jill and Gawker because he was called on his own slut shaming (betcha have a great social life there, boyo). There's a difference between pointing out how an industry exploits someone, and blaming someone for being exploited.

"Bar and club owners definitely exploit women," said Miller, who wrote an article in November headlined "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs" in the Washington Square News, New York University's student newspaper. "Women become a commodity of the establishment that owners use to draw male patrons in. I think the reason most men go to bars and clubs is to find women. This is why they'll pay a cover charge while women get in free; they're paying for the women inside. Bar and club owners know this. They know the success and appeal of their establishment depends on the quantity and attractiveness of the girls inside."

Miller dresses his lament up in feminist blue-jeans and comfy shoes, but we know the score. In the article Funk references, Miller insists that "girls" go to clubs just to dance (and implies that they're looking for a husband), "guys" go to clubs to get laid. Thank you for telling me about my sexuality and desires, Gary. It's so nice when a young pissant lecutures me, 'cause "girls" never just want to get laid, and guys never want to go out and dance (and they aren't being had by the nightclubs as so much tempting meat either--I mean, all that eye-candy AND willing to spring for drinks):

You just dance. Then you meet a guy, he buys you drinks, you go home with him, then you wait by your phone the whole next week; but he doesn't call until he's really drunk at 3 a.m. the following Saturday. So you analyze every detail of your encounter with your friends. You start to think maybe he's just busy. But really, you're just the slut from last week.

And Mr. Miller knows this. . .how? Cause his cousin's best friend's sister had this experience? Or "lots of girls" do? Or what? I mean, it's not as if people go to clubs to hang out and dance. We all know that men are genetically engineered to hate dancing and women never think about sex, it's all about the ring. Just ask Steven Pinker.

See, the club is like a discount brothel. A guy pays a $20 cover charge, plus drinks, plus labor, to convince a girl to go home with him, instead of paying $200 up front for sex. It's a lewd circus, and you girls are oblivious. I just try to see it for what it is. So, keep donating your bodies to the profit of "the club," and keep parading around with your air of VIP prestige. Just remember that it goes hand in hand with a lack of dignity and self-awareness. Have a great four-day weekend.

Let's turn it on its head: See, the club is like a free brothel for women. A "girl" pays next-to-nothing for cover and drinks, gets guys to buy her drinks, gets guys to beg her to go home with him, and gets to have sex without having to pick his socks up off the floor and listen to him yelp with his friends over the football game the next day. Why buy the bull when you can get the rodeo ride for free, after all? It's a lewd circus, and you boys are oblivious. So keep donating your cash and your bodies to the profit of the club, and keep parading around with your air of he-man machismo. Just remember that it goes hand-in-hand with a lack of dignity and self-awareness.

Okay. So we've got a feminist quoting a slut-baiting jackass whose whole! 21 years of experience with women! make him an expert on women's sexuality, thoughts, and inner lives. That's bad enough. But then Funk goes way over the top:

While there are no statistics or national studies about the incidence of bars breaking laws and doing what they can to attract young and underage women, Gary Miller, a senior at New York University, said it's an open secret. The secret burst into the new York City headlines, however, in July 2006. In a second homicide that summer in the city involving a young woman who had been drinking to excess, 18-year-old Jennifer Moore left one of the city's most exclusive lounges intoxicated. Walking alone in the early morning hours along the city's West Side Highway, she was abducted and raped. Two days later she was found disemboweled in a dumpster in Weehawken, N.J.

She should have known better! If she'd just stayed at home like a good girl, this never would have happened. Of course home can be dangerous, too. As can friends/boyfriends. More dangerous, in fact, than being out alone at night:

Contrary to the belief that rapists are hiding in the bushes or in the shadows of the parking garage, almost two-thirds of all rapes were committed by someone who is known to the victim. 73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger - 38% of perpetrators were a friend or acquaintance of the victim, 28% were an intimate and 7% were another relative.

Maybe Funk should read this hair-raising account of a rape and inform us how abstaining from clubs, dancing, and alcohol would have helped this woman. A woman who was forcibly sodomized by her boyfriend, then hectored and lectured by his friends and family during her hospital stay. He felt so very sowwy! He was on suicide watch! It was her duty to forgive him even though she had told him several times that anal was a deal breaker for her. Instead of respecting this, he forced the issue and raped her. But it's okay, because he's sowwy and he feels terrible. And it's all about him and how he feels, you see.

Look, if Funk kept this to how clubs are using women as unpaid labor, I'd be right there with her. Marketers are forever getting people to do their scut work and their heavy duty marketing work for some throwaway swag. It's exploitive and it's slimy. But she filtered all of this through a slut-shaming, red-light lens, and ignored the bigger picture.

Rox Populi's response: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Can you guess which one?

Now please go tell the editors of Women's eNews that blaming the victims of rape is way more uncool than any mullet LA's fashion victims ever dared to concoct.

Dear Ladies: Please Stop Getting Yourselves Raped is Melissa McEwan's response:

... In this approximately thousand-word article, the word rape appears three times, and the words murder, homicide, abducted, and disemboweled appear once each. One of the section headers says, ominously, "70,000 Date Rapes a Year." Those, I guess, are the "barroom risks" of which the article title speaks, as opposed to, say, the people who commit the acts —people who might also be drinking at "ladies' nights," in spite of not being ladies. The acts/risks are referenced abstractly, as if they are somehow eternal, like God maybe. Before man and woman, there was Rape, and Rape said, "Let there be life so that I might ruin it."

In a second homicide that summer in the city involving a young woman who had been drinking to excess, 18-year-old Jennifer Moore left one of the city's most exclusive lounges intoxicated. Walking alone in the early morning hours along the city's West Side Highway, she was abducted and raped. Two days later she was found disemboweled in a dumpster in Weehawken, N.J.

She was abducted and raped and she was found disemboweled in a dumpster, all because she had been drinking to excess and was walking alone while intoxicated. No trace of the person who actually abducted, raped, and murdered her anywhere. He is absent while his crime haunts the article like an menacing specter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you're going to write an article about minimizing the "barroom risk" of assault against women, perhaps you ought to consider actually discussing the assaulters, too.

Though somewhere between 69,999 and 70,000 of those "70,000 Date Rapes a Year" (which refers only to the number of "alcohol-related date rapes a year … among students aged 18 to 24") are committed by men, this article uses woman/women 22 times, she/her 9 times, girl(s) 6 times, female twice, and ladies twice. Man/Men/He/Him/His/Male/Guy(s) combined are used 14 times. Four women are quoted; one man is quoted—the author of an article entitled "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs." Yeesh. I guess we're meant to believe that it is just the victims who have been drinking and none of the rapists in those 70,000 alcohol-related date rapes every year—and that if only those victims had all been sober instead, none of those rapes would have happened. My rape, during which I was stone cold sober and my rapist's breath tasted of gin, was obviously the only one of its kind. I deserve a trophy or some shit.

... Left to my own devices, I never would have been raped. The rapist was really the key component to the whole thing. I was sober; hardly scantily clad (another phrase appearing once in the article), I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent—I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn't raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.

Enough blaming the victim. Enough.

Echidne, references many of the above responses and adds:

...[From the article,] you quickly you get the idea that men are discriminated against in the admissions procedures of these clubs but that this is in fact upside down, because it is the women who are really treated disgustingly. They are the tethered goat that is used to get the tigers or the men with the money. They are part of the amenities of the place, and that may be the point Funk is trying to make. But adding that reference to a horrible murder makes her point something quite different, something to do with punishing the underage women for their irresponsible behavior.

Notice the reference to "dignity" in the quote by Gary Miller [ "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs" ]? It seems to be a wingnut codeword for women who know their place, or at least that is the way the Pope and the Muslim imams use the term "women's dignity." Women lose their dignity if they act in an uppity manner or if they try to excel in something we all know women can't excel in. And it seems that women lose their dignity in clubs, too.

That tethered goat thing. That is what I have the most trouble with, because the tone of the article assumes that the women going to these bars are all hapless victims, looking for who knows what. Marriage? Enlightenment? And the men who frequent these bars are all tigers looking for a quickie. And rape happens, even murder happens, but somehow the perpetrators are never described. You might get raped by the night air, it seems, especially if you are underage.

Jill at Feministe includes AlterNet:

If I were to write a personal ad for Liz Funk, it would go something like this: SWF seeks tall, manly-man writer or psudeo-intellectual singer-songwriter who appeals to the 'tween set. Interests include long walks on the beach, John Mayer, playing dress-up in feminist clothes, slut-shaming, woman-bashing, and rape apologism. And Gary, if you're out there, call me!

Think I'm exaggerating about "feminist" Liz? Then check out her latest article: "Sacrificing Dignity for Attention." Where have I heard this before?

I'm not one to play feminist police, but damn if this isn't one of those moments where I'd love to take away someone's membership card. So, because Ms. Funk seems to be a little on the slow side when it comes to catching on to basic feminist theory, here's the 101: Feminists don't hate women. And that is why you, Liz, are no feminist.

Feminists don't blame women for being raped or attacked, or attempt to obscure that blame with "concern." Feminists don't shame women for having the audacity to leave their homes, or walk outside alone, or have a drink. Good feminist writers also do some basic research before they end their articles with stuff like this:

But even with laws and initiatives and special public precautions in place, Quinn acknowledged that young people "who go out at night remain at risk until they get back home."

If she had done some very basic research, she would have discovered that home is often more dangerous than being out at a bar...

...

I was disappointed to see this article run on AlterNet, but even more frustrated to see that it originated from Women's eNews, a great organization that I used to write for many, many moons ago. They employ great writers and have a fantastic editorial staff, and I'm unclear on how a piece like this made it past the decidedly feminist women who run the site. I'd suggest that anyone who is similarly outraged by the article contact the WeNews editorial staff at editors@womensenews.org. At the bottom of this post I'll include a list of all the blogs I can find that have written about this issue; feel free to link to this post and the rest of them in your email.

And finally, Feministing's response, from Jessica Valenti's co-blogger Ann Friedman:

She's baaaaack! Get out your feminist police badges, because Liz Funk is here to tell us that women who go out to bars or take advantage of drink specials are not only kinda slutty, but are almost asking to be raped. Her line of reasoning sounds remarkably similar to all of the anti-feminist responses to the rape and murder of Imette St. Guillen and other women who were last seen at bars or clubs.

To be sure, there are many feminist critiques to be made of ladies' nights. (Check out Jess's nuanced take on this from a while back.) Rather than slut-shaming and victim-blaming, Funk could have addressed the fact that, in promoting ladies' nights and for-women-only drink specials, club owners are using women as bait to attract the "real" customers...

...

Funk mentions Right Rides -- an organization that acknowledges being out, alone and drunk late at night is not a safe situation but never says the onus is on women to prevent their own rapes. But rather than quote the feminists who run this valuable service (or other non-blaming sources), she turns to Gary Miller, whose previous claim to fame was saying that all women who go to bars are "exchanging dignity for attention." Nice move.

The editors at Womens E-News say they stand by the piece. Click here to email them and share your thoughts on this subject.

Jessica Valenti is the executive editor of Feministing.

 
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